Wednesday, January 24, 2018

The Feast of St Timothy

On the calendar of the Extraordinary Form, today is the feast of St Timothy, bishop of Ephesus and martyr, the disciple to whom St Paul addressed two of his letters; he is also mentioned four times in the Acts of the Apostles, and eleven times in other letters of Paul. Apart from the information recorded about him in the Bible, there is an ancient tradition that he was martyred in his episcopal city in the year 97, beaten to death by a mob after publically protesting at an idolatrous religious festival. In the reign of the Emperor Constantius (337-361), his relics were translated to Constantinople, and placed in the church of the Holy Apostles, alongside those of Ss Andrew and Luke. In his treatise Against Vigilantius, who had written against the devotion and honor shown to the relics of the Saints, St Jerome sarcastically asks, “Was the Emperor Constantius guilty of sacrilege, when he transferred the sacred relics of Andrew, Luke, and Timothy to Constantinople? In their presence the demons cry out, and those who dwell in Vigilantius confess that they feel the presence (of the saints).”
St Timothy as a child, with his grandmother Lois, by Dutch painter Willem Drost (1650s), now in the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg. St Paul writes to Timothy in the second letter (1, 5) of “that faith which is in thee unfeigned, which also dwelt first in thy grandmother Lois, and in thy mother Eunice, and I am certain that in thee also.” (Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.)
Prior to the Tridentine liturgical reform, St Timothy’s feast was kept in several parts of northern and eastern Europe, (Germany, the Low Countries, followed by the Premonstratensian Order, Bohemia and Poland), and in some dioceses in Spain (followed by the Carmelites), but not at Rome itself. He is consistently assigned to January 24th, but there is an interesting discrepancy between the northern European and Spanish liturgical books; in the former, he is generally termed an Apostle, in the latter, a Bishop and Martyr. Of course, the term “apostle” is not used exclusively of the Twelve, but also applied to other early witnesses of the Apostolic preaching and teaching, St Paul first among them. The church of Rome traditionally honors another of his disciples, St Barnabas, as an Apostle, and the Byzantine Rite keeps a “Synaxis of the 70 Apostles” on January 4th, commemorating by name most of the people mentioned in passing in the Pauline letters.

St Timothy’s inclusion in the very first liturgical book of the Tridentine reform, the Roman Breviary issued by St Pius V in 1568, was therefore a novelty for Rome, but not an absolute novelty. It is noteworthy, however, that he was added to the Roman books as a Bishop and Martyr, even though at the time, the majority of places that kept his feast had it as that of an Apostle. As with the retention of St Catherine of Alexandria, and the completely ex novo addition of St Gregory the Wonderworker, this feature of the Tridentine calendar should be understood as part of the Catholic Church’s answer to the ideas of the Protestant reformation.

The story is told that at the end of his life, Luther lamented the fact that, having endeavored to rid the world of one Pope, he had ended up creating a thousand more of them, and if this story is not true, it is certainly indicative of the truth. The chaos which inevitably arose (and still arises to this day) from the concept of private interpretation of the Scriptures led almost immediately to violent disputes between the various groups of reformers; one of the most important such disputes was that between the Calvinists and Anabaptists. Calvin’s work was to a large degree a matter of both systematizing and radicalizing Luther’s very scattered ideas, but he was not at all willing or prepared to accept the much more radical teaching of the Anabaptists; namely, that if Scripture is indeed sufficient as the only rule of the Christian faith, any kind of clerical ministry is superfluous, and should be done away with.

In reaction to the logical conclusion of his own ideas, Calvin largely recreated the authority of the Church that he had rejected. As stated in the Catholic Encyclopedia’s article on Calvinism, “The Reformers felt that they must restore creeds and enforce the power of the Church over dissidents. Calvin … built his presbytery on a democratic foundation — the people were to choose, but the ministers chosen were to rule. Christian freedom consisted in throwing off the yoke of the Papacy, it did not allow the individual to stand aloof from the congregation. He must sign formulas, submit to discipline, be governed by a committee of elders. A new sort of Catholic Church came into view, professing that the Bible was its teacher and judge, but never letting its members think otherwise than the articles drawn up should enjoin. … the great iconoclast … makes the visible Church supreme over Christians, assigns to it the prerogatives claimed by Rome, enlarges on the guilt of schism, and upholds the principle Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus.”

The words “presbytery” and “committee of elders” are particularly significant here, for it was in the Swiss theocratic republics like Calvin’s Geneva that episcopal governance of the Church was replaced by presbyterian government, “presbyteros” being a Greek word for “elder.” From there, it was copied by John Knox and brought to Scotland, where the new religion came to be known as Presbyterianism, to distinguish it from that of the Anglican Church, which retains the office of the bishop.

In the figure of St Timothy, therefore, who is received into the liturgical tradition of the Roman Church not as an Apostle, but as a Bishop and Martyr, we have a clear statement that the episcopacy as an institution rests on Scriptural foundations. St Paul, in whose letters the reformers claim to find their teaching, writes to him as follows: “A faithful saying: if a man (singular) desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work.”, and then lays down the qualities necessary for such a man “who will have care of the Church.” (1 Tim. 3, 1-5). At the very beginning of this letter (1, 3), Paul writes that he had commanded Timothy to remain at Ephesus, the city to whose church Paul himself had previously addressed a letter, whose angel St John addresses in the Apocalypse (2, 1-7), and where the latter is traditionally said to have died.

The Martyrdom of St Timothy, depicted in a Byzantine Menologion of the second quarter of the 11th century; now in the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. (Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons, cropped.)
Shortly after Timothy’s martyrdom, St Ignatius of Antioch, while passing through Asia Minor on the way to his death in Rome, wrote a letter to the church of Ephesus, in which he refers to the “presbytery” of the city three times, but always in connection with the bishop. “For your justly renowned presbytery, worthy of God, is fitted as exactly to the bishop as the strings are to the harp.” (chapter 4) His other letters speak in similar terms of the importance of the bishop’s role in the Church, except, significantly, the one addressed to the Church of Rome, which “presides in charity”; they repeatedly extol the importance of peace, harmony and a real, visible unity within the Church, all of which are conspicuously lacking among the early reformers. Therefore, if episcopal governance of the Church is a yet another corruption, it is one that rests on the foundation of the Bible, and was built by the Apostles themselves and their immediate successors.

St Paul speaks of his disciple Titus less often than Timothy, four times in 2 Corinthians, and once each in Galatians and 2 Timothy, but also addressed an epistle to him, “my beloved son according to the common faith.” (1, 4) In the latter, before enumerating the qualities of the good bishop, he says that he left him on the island of Crete “to establish elders (presbyterous) from city to city”; it is the bishop who establishes the “elders”, not the other way around. (1, 5-10) There does not appear to be any tradition of devotion to St Titus in any Western liturgy before 1854, when Blessed Pius IX added his feast to the universal calendar, while raising the ranks of Ss Timothy and Ignatius of Antioch. This would seem to be a liturgical answer to some of the Biblical and Patristic scholarship of that age, which often claimed quite openly that the Apostles themselves and their immediate successors did indeed corrupt Christ’s teaching, with Paul the first and worst among them.

In the post-Conciliar calendar reform, Ss Timothy and Titus were consolidated into a single feast, and moved to January 26th. St Timothy’s former day is now occupied by St Francis de Sales, who died on the feast of the Holy Innocents in 1622. As a priest of the diocese of Geneva, then as its bishop for 20 years (1602-22), he helped to bring over 70,000 persons, the majority of them Calvinists, back to the Catholic Church.

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